Heritage - 30: Whitby Cats and Yorkshire Cobles - Seagoing Barques and Inshore Fishing Vessels Along Yorkshire's Coast
Here's a departure - Ship Architecture
Background to the 'Cats' chosen by Capt. Cook for his Pacific voyages
William Falconer's 'Dictionary of the Marine' dated 1769, corrected by Thomas Cadell in 1780 defines 'Cat' as a ship employed in the coal trade, formed from a Norwegian model. The vessels are distinguished by a narrow stern, projecting quarters, a deep waist, and by having no ornamental figure on the prow (which was generally snub-nosed and vertical or square to the water.
Being familiar with the vessels from working the colliers between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London, as well as across to Norway and the Baltic for the timber trade, Cook chose the Whitby 'Cat' for its sound construction and its ability in shallower waters, mindful that he might need to close on the shore for charting purposes.
'The Earl of Pembroke', Cook's first choice for exploration in the Pacific, had been built at Fishburn's Yard, Whitby and was refitted for the Royal Navy, renamed 'Endeavour'. A vessel designed for difficult weather conditions and of shallow draught, 'Endeavour' was ideally suited to Cook's purpose in being able to be sailed closer into shore. This capacity was demonstrated amply where the 'Cats' were used on coastal work to the alum workings near Whitby. Channels had been blasted in the rock to take the reduced keel, enabling crews to moor at high tide without the vessels 'keeling over' (no pun intended). When the sea went out the angle they settled at was slight. 'Endeavour's' design was a life-saver when she struck the Great Barrier Reef. A normal keeled ship would have been holed beyond redemption, whereas 'Endeavour' was towed into Botany Bay within the reef and patched up sufficiently to get the crew to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies.
On his second voyage Cook selected the ships 'Marquis of Granby' (launched 1770) and 'Marquis of Rockingham' (also launched 1770). He also selected a pair of John Harrison's sea clocks to test for himself, to establish longtitude in uncharted waters.The two ships were renamed 'Resolution' and 'Adventure'.
For his third and last - fateful - voyage Cook took 'Resolution' again and another ship, 'Diligence', renamed 'Discovery'.
Trial by Power - a lone 'Cat' ringed by modern vessels
'Endeavour' was typical of Cook's refurbished collier ships...
When assigned on the voyage to take Joseph Banks to Tahiti to observe the passage of Venus she carried ten four-pounder guns that measured 6'-0" (180 cms) along the breech, weighing 11-12 cwt, positioned amidships on the lower deck five to a side. She was also fitted with twelve swivel guns, 2'-10" (85 cms) long, to be loaded with shot for short-range firing, i.e., ship-to-ship or at smaller vessels almost alongside, should the occasion arise.
Ships such as Cook's on 'detached' (non-military) duties, that encompassed voyages of discovery or scientific purpose displayed the red ensign. She was to all intents and purposes on civilian, rather than on naval duty. This flag denoted also vessels undertaking merchant services. Ships on military or blockading duties displayed the white ensign. In either case the Union Flag of the time occupied the top left quarter of the ensign, minus the saltire (diagonal red cross) of St Patrick which was added only in 1801 at the height of the Napoleonic War.
And now to the Coble...
With their Viking beginnings...
Originally only under sail - usually a standing lug - most cobles still had sailing gear aboard but by the 1950s many were motorised, the shaft and propeller running in a 'tunnel' protected by twin bilge keels (or drafts) astern.
In general sailing gear has been removed, leaving space for a forward wheelhouse. They keep the deep 'forefoot' however, pronounced sheer and noticeable tumblehome waist. Twin bilge runners (drafts) run right aft. Boats would be custom-built for local conditions, the design varying marginally from place to place and builder. Modern boats often have a small wheelhouse forward, a half-deck to shelter the engine and gantries to support line haulers.
Although nowhere near as many cobles operate from Staithes, most are moored in the creek by the footbridge, although some are moored beyond the harbour wall. Few are still registered in the fishery, many now being in private hands as leisure vessels. At Robin Hood's Bay they are virtually non-existent. Some modified ones are still based at Whitby and Scarborough, and others are scattered between Redcar and Bridlington or Hornsea.
Fishing was, and still is inshore, generally long line, or hunting for crab or lobster. Summertime trips around the bay or fishing trips for visitors supplement income for some. These days boats are kept ashore on lorry-wheeled launching trolleys or cradles. Once horses were used for launch and recovery, both for fishing vessels and lifeboats. Tractor haulage has been well established since the 1950s. On bringing in cobles the bows are swung into the incoming surf, ready for the next launch and the boats are drawn out stern first.
Variants - modified Cobles
David Brandon's look at the Yorkshire Coast from north to south, inlets known as 'wykes', wide bays, river mouths and creeks such as at Staithes with its steep cliffsides. The broad sweep of Bridlington's or Hornsea's seafront, Filey Brigg and Flamborough's North Landing, Scarborough's two bays with its ruined castle on the promontory that divides the vista. Whitby's River Esk accessed from between the twin beacons with the abbey on the east cliff, Captain Cook's statue and whalebone arch on West Cliff...
Published 2010, The History Press Ltd., ISBN 978-0752457521
Cobles still registered for commercial fishing are usually manned by individuals or pairs, the amount of space aboard being cramped once nets or pots are stowed aboard for the day's work. You can usually see them leave early in the morning, to return in the afternoon with their catch. Watch them from the clifftops, skirting the coast on the way to and from their fishing grounds. Rough weather and strong currents on the coast can severely restrict working hours, and income in autumn and winter can be a fraction of the summer's takings. Take a walk along the seafront anywhere from Redcar to Hornsea and buy fish, crab or other shellfish direct from the boats. Or at Whitby, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington visit one of the seafront cabins and buy a coffee and a crab sandwich or whatever you fancy from a wide range of filled rolls and white fish.
*I tend to use my parking disc (see local post offices and some shops, free parking is for two hours) to park near the castle at Scarborough and walk down the steep hill to the harbour to take a look around the fish quay. A new lifeboat house is under construction close by, with official opening scheduled for spring/early summer, 2016.
© 2015 Alan R Lancaster